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CrossFit: What is it? Is it for me?

Getting started with any new exercise regime can be daunting, starting CrossFit can be even more intimidating. There are many preconceived ideas about it being so hardcore that almost everyone throws up, or worse, that everyone regularly gets injured. This is not the experience that I have had at all! So, I wanted to share with you how I started, and more importantly, why I am still doing it!

How did I start CrossFit?

I was introduced to CrossFit by my boyfriend a year and a half ago. I have always been very active, however, like most people I had been a little bit wary about starting and needed a little encouragement to try it.

This Under Armour duffle bag is perfect for carrying all of your gear. It comes in a huge range of colours!

Emilio (my boyfriend) had been involved in CrossFit for a couple of years already and suggested that I come and try it out with him. We were in Florida at the time and he was training at a small box (CrossFit lingo for gym) in Deerfield beach that is owned and run by two fantastic women! Automatically the first stereotype was demolished for me! There was not some huge beefcake taking the class, in fact it was a petite Brazilian woman with a huge smile on her face!

Initially, it is easy to feel a little lost, in a short space of time you are introduced to new movements, with new names, and the initial reflex is often, “No way can I do that!” But what they don’t tell you is how much encouragement you will receive from fellow CrossFitters who have all been in the same position at some point, or who are still learning how to perform certain movements. In addition to the detailed progressions which they prescribe for each exercise. For almost all movements in CrossFit there is a way to scale the movement accordingly relative to the individual’s ability.

What do I love about it?

I have never been any good at team sports, but I have always been involved in sports and particularly those sports that create a sense of communities. CrossFit certainly does that!

I was fortunate enough to start my CrossFit journey at a small and incredibly friendly CrossFit box called Beach Bound CrossFit. Shortly after I started, one of the biggest competitions in CrossFit commenced, “The Open”. The Open is a competition that takes place over 5 weeks and comprises of 5 workouts. It is the first qualifying stage for the CrossFit Games (their equivalent of the Olympics) and participation is open to anyone and everyone.

Beach Bound chose to complete their Open Workouts on Friday evenings or Saturday mornings and everyone would come together to watch those competing and cheer them on. This was when I truly realised the importance of community within CrossFit. There was an incredible atmosphere in the box and amongst all competitors who were all cheering one another along vigorously.

Another element I love about CrossFit is the diversity. The community is as varied as it is large. Sport is an extremely powerful tool in breaking down any barriers, be it age, race, sex etc. and this is extremely true of CrossFit. You train alongside a combination of young, old, fit, less fit, newbies, pros! We all train together, completing variations of the same workout, sweating and suffering as a team!

Beach Bound CrossFit

What IS CrossFit?

These Saxx Kinetic Train Shorts are perfect for CrossFit!

CrossFit is defined as “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.” It is often used by police, military special operations units, and elite athletes worldwide. CrossFit is essentially a combination of Olympic Lifting, gymnastics and metabolic conditioning (cardio). It involves rowing, running, weightlifting, kettlebell movements, handstands and specialises in not specialising! The goal is to prepare its athletes for anything and everything, whether that means picking up your kid, doing the shopping, or running to catch a bus! CrossFit is a sport that allows everyone to participate in.  There is a system by which they can scale each workout to every individual’s skill and ability levels.

Every day at a CrossFit box (gym) there is a prescribed Workout of the Day that the coach will take you through. When you first join, as a beginner, most boxes will take you through a beginner program (often referred to as CrossFit 101 or On Ramp) where they will teach you the fundamental movements. The length of these programs depends on the gyms, but range from a few days to a few weeks. This is an extremely important element. Even the fittest among us need some introduction!

Why does CrossFit get such a bad name?

CrossFit has sparked furious debate since its conception, its exponential growth in popularity has attracted both enthusiastic supporters and critics. The extremely rapid growth of CrossFit has been one of the chief reasons that the sport has received such polarised views.

One of the most common criticisms about CrossFit is that it is dangerous. There is of course some truth to this statement when taken at face value. The reality is that it will push your limits, and given the technicality of some of the movements has a risk of causing injury. However, the injuries are not from not CrossFit itself.

What causes injuries is not listening to coaches, performing moves incorrectly, or receiving poor coaching. Ego can also be a lead cause of injuries. Those who are comparing themselves to others and try to push themselves harder than they should! The trick is to know yourself and your body, well enough to know when to push it, and when to ease off. It is predominantly beginners who are at risk of injury in CrossFit. For those curious, please make sure to complete the introductory sessions and to not dive in headfirst until you feel ready!

Conclusion

For anyone intrigued, I cannot encourage you more to give it a shot! Check the official list of affiliate gyms to find your nearest boxes. Check out two or three before settling, much like everything else in life the teacher is extremely important. Price of dropping in varies, you may even find that your first class is free! The important thing is to train with a coach who makes you feel safe and who explains things in a way that you can understand.

Remember that performing any type of intense activity three to six times a week will indubitably increase your odds of injury. Be smart about your training. If you are feeling too fatigued, don’t let your ego get the better of you and push too hard, always listen to your body! Finally, and most importantly work actively on your recovery and pay attention to your nutrition! I try and do yoga at least once a week, I also do a lot of mobility drills and exercises before training. A lot of boxes now even offer mobility/ stretching classes. Do not ignore this element of your training! Be sure to let me know about your CrossFit journey, share your experiences with us here!

CrossFit Dictionary
(A couple of terms to get you started!)

BOX – CrossFit gym

WOD – Workout

RX – RX means that you have not scaled any of the prescribed weights or movements in a workout.

Affiliate – gym or box officially affiliated with the CrossFit brand.

Drop In – doing one class at a gym. (i.e. you are not a member and you are paying a drop in fee).

Stephanie Contomichalos

Stephanie Contomichalos is a sports enthusiast. She is an avid crossfitter, wakeboarder and has recently qualified as a Level 1 CrossFit coach. She is also an advocate for women’s sport and for using sport as a tool for development. She is currently living in Athens, Greece.

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